Understanding the WCM Market

Share This Post


A quick Google search for “Web Content Management Software” returns over a billion results.

One Web site that tracks such things lists over 600 different web content management solutions available today. These solutions range from free, open-source software to enterprise-class offerings costing hundreds of thousands of dollars from companies like EMC Documentum and Vignette.

With so many content management solutions out there, how does an organization know which solution is right for its needs? This article will explore that question by investigating the overall market for WCM solutions and the main business drivers companies have for purchasing them.

Market Demand

Let’s start by looking at the market demand for content management solutions. As you might imagine, solutions in high demand are a good fit for lots of organizations, while solutions in low demand are a good fit for only a few specific companies. When you chart market demand across all available content management solutions, you get a standard bell-curve distribution (figure 1).


Figure 1:
WCM Market Demand Curve

Along the horizontal axis, you have the collection of all WCM solutions. The vertical axis represents the market demand for a particular solution.

For example, over 74,000 companies use Yahoo’s content management system as an online store. These organizations all have similar needs – product lists, shopping carts, and online transactions, and these needs can all be met by Yahoo’s content management system.


Figure 2:
Example of a Site Powered by Yahoo

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s Amazon.com. Amazon is constantly innovating, adding features like user reviews and recommendations based on a shopper’s buying patterns. Very few organizations require a content management system as complex as Amazon’s; even fewer can afford one.


Figure 3:

To understand the full spectrum of the WCM market, we must first understand the needs of the organizations that buy WCM solutions.

Challenges of Managing a Web Site

Managing a Web site is difficult:

  • Creating and programming web pages is still a fairly technical operation. The language of the web (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, etc.) is beyond the grasp of most people.
  • A company’s Web site is a strong contributor to its brand. The layout, images, and copywriting often require specialized designers and writers.
  • The public wants information at their fingertips. In order to meet this demand, the process of adding and editing information on a Web site must be as efficient and streamlined as possible.
  • Compliance and regulatory concerns require that content be reviewed and approved before it is published to the web. Courts are now requiring companies in certain industries to prove that their Web site does not contain misleading information.
  • Specialized expertise in search engine optimization is required to ensure that the public can find your Web site in the first place.

Of course, not all companies are faced with all of these problems. Your local shoe store probably isn’t concerned about regulatory compliance. But large, multinational companies must often tackle all of these challenges and more, including translating web pages into multiple languages and managing copyrights to third-party images.

Now you can see why there are so many web content management solutions out there. There are simple solutions like Yahoo for your local shoe store, and complex, customized and comprehensive solutions for large corporations like Amazon.

Web Content Management Drivers

All the challenges I listed above can be boiled down into two primary drivers for purchasing web content management solutions: improving internal processes and enabling Web site functionality.

Improving Internal Processes

In companies without a content management system, creating a single web page can require a small platoon of workers: writers, designers, programmers, and testers all working together to ensure the page has the right message, looks good, meets corporate style guide standards, and has no broken links. The page may then be printed (shocking!) and sent to the legal department for approval. Once it’s signed off by legal, the system administrators can copy the page to the live Web site. This process can take days or even weeks.

Companies that want to make this process easier turn to content management systems. Most content management systems have many features that can help streamline the process:

  • Web page templates that will automatically enforce corporate style guides
  • WYSIWYG editors that allow writers to create web pages without needing to know HTML
  • Approval workflows that ensure content is reviewed before it is published
  • Automatic publishing to the Web site, eliminating the need for a manual push

Enabling Web Site Functionality

Some companies turn to content management systems in order to improve the way their Web site functions. Certain features you see on modern Web sites are only made possible with help from content management systems. The key to most of these features is their reliance on metadata – properties or attributes of a web page that describe what the page is about.

Metadata is stored in a database and can be used to enable a variety of features:

  • Dynamic Content – Many Web sites use dynamic web pages to help users make sense of mountains of data. These pages use metadata to create dynamic lists such as event calendars and news listings.
  • Personalization – Web sites that show different versions of a page to different users are “personalizing” that page, tailoring it to the specific reader. This technology uses a document’s metadata to match it to a visitor’s user profile.
  • Parametric Search – Some companies, such as electronics retailers, have complex product lines where individual product specifications matter most to the consumer. These companies often provide a parametric search feature that allows users to filter a product list based on specific metadata values.

Different companies need different solutions because their business drivers are different. The highest priority for some of our clients is to streamline the content creation process while ensuring compliance with government regulations. For other clients, leading edge Web site functionality is most important. The reality for most organizations lies somewhere in between.

Segmenting the Market

At Blue Fish, we think about the market for Web Content Management solutions as having three types of consumers, and we segment the market into three groups of solution: Disposable, Enterprise, and Strategic.

Disposable Web Content Management Solutions

The vast majority of content management solutions on the market appeal to small and medium-sized businesses with fairly straightforward needs. Blogs and Wikis fit into this category, as do most open-source content management solutions like Plone, Mambo, and PostNuke. I call these solutions “disposable”, since they will often be replaced the next time an organization redesigns its Web site.

Companies who deploy these solutions typically have a small number of users (often only one) and do not place much emphasis on compliance. As a result, many solutions in this category do not support electronic approval processes. Others use a pre-defined approver role as the gatekeeper for all content. The lack of multi-step approval workflows is a barrier that prevents these solutions from competing in the market for larger companies.

The solutions in this category often provide a default Web site template (also known as a theme or skin). Many organizations use the default Web site since creating a new skin can be costly and time consuming. Although this saves money, the generic templates fail to differentiate the organization; this option is only chosen by companies without a strong brand of their own.

Often a disposable CMS is supplied by a visual design firm as part of a web redesign project. In these cases, the client probably had little say in the selection of the CMS, relying on the recommendation of their design partner. For this reason, disposable CMS vendors often sell to marketing companies rather than to end users.

Disposable CMS solutions tend to offer a standard set of pre-defined features for the Web site, such as polls, news listings, and image galleries.

Enterprise Web Content Management Solutions

Most large corporations need more from a CMS than small and medium-sized companies do. These companies have large IT groups, dedicated marketing personnel, and complex compliance rules. Their Web sites tend to be large, translated into multiple languages, and they likely have several users responsible for the web, with different people creating content for different sections of the Web site.

Large companies have complex computing environments with established standards for web servers and databases. They tend to purchase their CMS from a “name-brand” vendor such as Documentum or Interwoven. Many times, the Web Content Management system is a small part of the organization’s overall corporate content management strategy.

Since large companies require WCM systems that can fit into their enterprise computing architecture, I call this class of solution “Enterprise” Web Content Management.

I’ve helped dozens of large companies deploy web content management solutions, and most of these companies fall into the “enterprise” category. Almost all of them deployed their CMS as part of a web redesign project. Most of them are using their Web sites for information sharing, customer service, and marketing initiatives.

The other thing these companies had in common was their focus on improving internal processes. In virtually every case, they required a multi-step approval process, with separate approvals for the marketing and legal departments. One client’s approval process is so complex that dozens of individuals review and approve content before it is published.

Strategic Web Content Management Solutions

Most Fortune 1000 companies utilize their Web sites as a way to get closer to their customers. Their Web sites contain product information, financial information for investors and analysts, and resources to facilitate customer service. Surprisingly few use the web to sell products directly to their customers.

However, some companies’ lifeblood truly is the web. Companies like Amazon.com and ETrade wouldn’t exist if it were not for the web. Others, such as Dell and Charles Schwab, leverage the web to reach customers more efficiently than they could using traditional methods. These companies use the web as a strategic tool to drive revenue, and their content management systems are enormously important. They fit into our final category, “Strategic” WCM solutions.

Because their Web sites are so important, organizations in this category often spend hundreds of thousands of dollars integrating their CMS solutions with their ERP and CRM systems. Some go so far as to create their own content management systems. These systems can include one-of-a-kind features that provide their owners with a competitive advantage.

Did You Know?

CNet, one of the web’s earliest media companies, created their own strategic content management system that later became Vignette’s Story Server.

Although streamlining content management processes is clearly important to these firms, their demand for specialized CMS solutions comes primarily from the Web site features these solutions enable. A case in point: Amazon.com can suggest products that you might like based on the products that you have purchased in the past. This feature would not be possible without a content management system and the metadata it contains about Amazon’s products.

Comparing Segments

Let’s plot the three segments above onto our bell curve. We’ll only show the right half of the curve to keep things simple.



Figure 4:
WCM Market Segments

Primary driversLow costInternal Process ImprovementWeb Site Features
Key FeaturesTemplates, Out-of-the-box Web Site TemplatesTemplates, Security, Workflow, CompliancePersonalization, Custom Features that Drive Revenue
ExamplesYahoo! Store, Open Source CMS systems, Blogs, WikisDocumentum, Interwoven, VignetteAmazon.com, Expedia, Overstock.com
Software Cost< $10k$100k – 250k> $250k

In general, you could say that the more mature a company’s eBusiness strategy is, the more sophisticated its Web Content Management system will be.

Final Thoughts

Over time, I think there will continue to be three main WCM segments, but what you will find within each segment is likely to be very different. As organizations mature, their reliance on Web Content Management systems will increase, and many organizations will move to the right on the segment curve. Small organizations will get bigger and will face the same challenges that their neighbors in the Enterprise segment face. And larger companies will look to the web for more opportunities to drive revenue, forcing their WCM solutions to morph from “Enterprise” to “Strategic” as their business models evolve.

Features, on the other hand, will move toward the left on the segment curve. Today’s innovations by companies like Amazon.com will eventually be incorporated by CMS vendors in the Disposable segment. A prime example of this is the way that Yahoo! today provides an ecommerce platform for small businesses that, five years ago, would have only been available to companies in the Strategic segment.

Open source technologies are also likely to shake things up as companies like Alfresco make progress in providing Enterprise features at Disposable prices. This is likely to free up budget for customizations that will make it easier for companies to move to the right on the segment curve.


I expect that I’ll have to rename the Disposable segment sometime in the future as companies seek to preserve their CMS investment beyond their next Web site redesign.

More To Explore